Myths surrounding language

List of myths surrounding the separation or division of language (confusion of tongues), or how the multitude of languages we have today came about.


  • 1 From the Popul Vuh (Mayan)
  • 2 From the Bible (Christian)
  • 3 From Australian Aboriginals (Gunwinggu of Northern Territory)
  • 4 From Native Americans (Iroquois)
  • 5 From the Hindus (India)
  • 6 From the Aztecs (Mexico)
  • 7 From the Greeks (Greece)
  • 8 From the Encounter Bay Tribe (South Australia)
  • 9 Kaska (American Indian)
  • 10 Wa-Sania (Africa)

From the Popul Vuh (Mayan)

Part 3, Chapter 4

Then all the people arrived, those from Rabinal, the Cakchiquel, those from Tziquinahá, and the people who now are called the Yaqui. And there it was thatthe speech of the tribes changed; their tongues became different. They could no longer understand each other clearly after arriving at Tulán. There also they separated, there were some who had to go to the East, but many came here.

From the Bible (Christian)

Genesis 11:1-9

And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the childrenof men builded.And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language;and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confoundthe language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.;&version=9;

From Australian Aboriginals (Gunwinggu of Northern Territory)

One day in dreamtime, Waramurungundju, a fertility goddess walked out ofthe sea with her partner Wuraka.She was the one with the long name and he was the one with an even longer appendage. It was so impressive he had to keep it coiled around his neck. Andthen it was wham-bam fertility time. Phew!Finally their non-stop bouts of fulfilment and fertility culminated in multiple creation. Waramurungundju then taught her children to talk and gavethem all a different language to play with. This magnificent piece of creativeeffort achieved, she and her partner calmly walked back into the sea again.

From Native Americans (Iroquois)

Taryenyawagon (The Holder of the Heavens) warned them against the evil spirit,and gave them corn, beans, squash, potatoes, tobacco, and dogs to hunt their game.  He bid them go toward the rising of the sun, and personally guided them, until they came to a river, which they named Yehnonanatche (that is going around a mountain), they went down the bank of the river and came to where it discharges into a great river, running towards the midway sun, they named it Skawnaytawty (that is beyond the pineries), and went down the banks of the river and touched the bank of the great water. The company made an encampment at this place and remained for a while.  The people was then of onelanguage.  Some of them went on the banks of the great waters, towards the midway sun, and never returned.  But the company that remained at the camp returned as they came--along the bank of the river, under his direction.This company were a particular body, which called themselves of one household. Of these there were six families, and they entered into an agreement to preserve the chain of alliance which should not be extinguished under any circumstance.The company advance some distance up the river of Skawnatawty. Taryenyawagon directed the first family to make their residence near the bank of the river, and the family was named Tehawrogeh (that is, a speech divided). Their language soon changed.  The company then turned and went towards the sun-setting, and traveled about two days and a half, then came to a creek, which was named Kawnatawteruh (that is pineries).  The second family was directed to make their residence near the creek; and the family was named Nehawretahgo (that is big tree). Their language was changed likewise. The company continued to proceed toward the sun-setting under the direction of Taryenyawagon. The third family was directed to make their residence on a mountain, named Onondaga, and the family was named Seuhnowhahtah (that is, carrying the name). Their language also changed. The rest of the company continued their journey towards the sun-setting. The fourth family was directed to make their residence near a large lake, named Goyogoh (that is a mountain rising from water), and the family was named Sho-nea-na-we-to-wah (that is a great pipe). Their language was altered. The rest of the company kept their course towards the sun-setting. The fifth family was directed to make their residence near a high mountain, situated south of Canandaigua Lake,which was named Tehow-nea-nyo-hent (that is possessing a door).  Their language was also changed. The sixth, and last family, went on their journey toward the sun-setting, and traveled a great distance, when they came to a large river, which was named O-nah-we-yo-ka (that is a principal stream).The people discovered a grapevine lying across the river, by which a part of the people went over, but while they were crossing the vine broke.  They were divided, and became enemies to those that were over the river in consequence of which, they were obliged to abandon the journey.  Those that went over the river were finally lost and forgotten from the memory of those that remained on the eastern banks.

From the Hindus (India)

"There grew in the centre of the earth the wonderful `world tree,' or `knowledge tree.' It was so tall that it reached almost to heaven. It said in its heart, `I shall hold my head in heaven and spread my branches over all theearth, and gather all men together under my shadow, and protect them, and prevent them from separating.' But Brahma, to punish the pride of the tree, cut off its branches and cast them down on the earth, when they sprang up as wata trees, and made differences of belief and speech and customs to prevail on the earth, to disperse men upon its surface."

From the Aztecs (Mexico)

… when mankind were overwhelmed with the deluge, none were preserved but a mannamed Coxcox (to whom others give the name of Teocipactli), and a woman called Xochiquetzal, who saved themselves in a little bark, and having afterwards got to land upon a mountain called by them Colhuacan, had there a great many children; that these children were all born dumb, until a dove froma lofty tree imparted to them languages, but differing so much that they could not understand one another.

From the Greeks (Greece)

Thus the Greeks had a tradition that for many ages men lived at peace, withoutcities and without laws, speaking one language, and ruled by Zeus alone. At last Hermes introduced diversities of speech and divided mankind into separatenations. So discord first arose among mortals, and Zeus, offended at their quarrels, resigned the sovereignty and committed it to the hands of the Argivehero Phoroneus, the first king of men.

 From the Encounter Bay Tribe (South Australia)

In remote time an old woman, named Wurruri lived towards the eastand generally walked with a large stick in her hand, to scatter thefires round which others were sleeping, Wurruri at length died. Greatlydelighted at this circumstance, they sent messengers in all directionsto give notice of her death; men, women and children came, not to lament,but to show their joy. The Raminjerar were the first who fell upon thecorpse and began eating the flesh, and immediately began to speak intelligibly. The other tribes to the eastward arriving later, ate the contents of the intestines, which caused them to speak a languageslightly different. The northern tribes came last and devoured the intestines and all that remained, and immediately spoke a languagediffering still more from that of the Raminjerar.

Kaska (American Indian)

Once there came a great flood which covered the earth. Most of the people maderafts, and some escaped in canoes. Great darkness came on, and high winds whichdrove the vessels hither and thither. The people became separated. Some were driven far away. When the flood subsided, people landed wherever they found the nearest land. When the earth became dry, they lived in the places near where they had landed. People were now widely scattered over the world. They did notknow where the other people lived, and probably thought themselves the onlysurvivors. Long afterwards, when in their wanderings they met people from another place, they spoke different languages, and could not understand oneanother. ''This is why there are now many different centres of population, many tribes and many languages.'' Before the flood, there was but one centre;for all the people lived together in one country, and spoke one language.

Wa-Sania (Africa)

The Wa-Sania, a Bantu tribe formerly of British East Africa have a tale that inthe beginning, the tribes of the earth knew only one language, but during asevere [[famine]], a madness struck the people, causing them to wander in alldirections, jabbering strange words, and this is how different languages came about.